The Ultimate Guide to Paros Island
Our guide to Paros reveals the often-overlooked secrets of this island in the very heart of the Cyclades chain.
Paros is the anchor of the Cyclades chain. Plonked in the middle of the Aegean Sea with Naxos to the east and Mykonos to the north, it could very well be called the heart of the Greek islands. It's hardly a surprise, then, that this one's something of a ferry terminal for the whole archipelago, with boats whizzing in and out from all over.
It's a great shame that most people don't linger long enough to experience the charms of Paros itself. It's a truly enthralling island, with a rich past that entwines the Byzantine and the Roman, and means glimpses of ancient Greek quarries (Parian marble was used to craft the Venus de Milo, don't you know?) next to time-stood-still villages like Lefkes in the hills. You'll also get to discover some of the more deserted beaches in the Cyclades – stunning Kolymbithres, reef-ringed Santa Maria – next to the boat-bobbing fishing town of Naoussa, where there's a buzzy nightlife scene for good measure.
This ultimate guide to Paros will extoll the virtues of this oft-overlooked spot on the Aegean map. Maybe you'll hang around just a touch longer than planned, eh?
What's in this guide to Paros?
- Where is Paros?
- When to visit Paros?
- Things to do in Paros
- The best beaches in Paros
- How to get to Paros
Where is Paros, exactly?
Paros sits smack dab in the heart of the much-loved Cyclades chain. The largest island in the group, Naxos, is a mere 3.5 miles to the west, while Mykonos is about 19 miles to the north, and Santorini is less than 50 miles to the south. The upshot? You're close to all the mainstay sights in the area, which is probably why Paros is both a major stop on island-hopping tours of the Aegean, and one of the most important ferry hubs for those going from A to B by public boat.
When to visit Paros
Paros has the same enviable Mediterranean climate as the rest of the Cyclades. Hot summers and mild winters are tempered by shoulder seasons that have temperatures that hover neatly in the mid to low-20s. That means a relatively long tourist season with plenty of opportunities to catch that famous trio of Greek sun, sand, and sea…
Paros in Winter
Many of the cross-Aegean ferries go into hibernation for the winter months and Paros all but follows suit. A lot of the hotels and restaurants don't even operate between December and March. However, with 4,500 permanent inhabitants, the port of Parikia is actually one of the more lived-in towns in the region, so it's not going to be a ghost island by any stretch. Still, thermometers are hardly soaring, with average highs of 14C throughout much of the season. There's also quite a bit of rain – nearly three full inches in January alone.
Paros in Spring
Things really start looking up in Paros towards the end of March and the beginning of April. Average daily temperatures throughout spring creep from just 16 to a steady 22 by the end of May, with highs in the low 30s possible on some days. Rainfall also drops considerably, but there's still enough to help along the wildflowers and bring a certain lushness to the farmlands in the Parian backcountry. It's the top time of year for hiking the inland trails around Lefkes village, but also good for dodging the crowds on the beaches, although the Aegean remains chilly until summer hits in earnest.
Paros in summer
It's no secret that summer is when Paros really shines. The bulk of the crowds (although still nowhere near the same crowds as on nearby Santorini or Mykonos) come between June and March. They come for the regular daily highs of 30-35 degrees, the cloudless skies, and the buzz of towns like Naoussa, where the nightlife venues will be in full swing. Like the whole region, Paros is hit by strong northerly winds (known as the Meltemi) from mid-June onwards. Sometimes it's a gift, balancing out the heat and pleasing the windsurfers down on Golden Beach. Other times it's prohibitively blustery and just an irritation.
Paros in autumn
Autumn is probably our pick for the best time of year on Paros. The crowds start disappearing as soon as August turns to September. That's coupled with a slight dip in mercury levels, so you get milder days and chillier evenings, though it's definitely warm enough to laze in the coves of Kolymbithres well into October. You should also find that ferry links in the Aegean continue on throughout the autumn, which means Paros can still be part of a self-planned island-hopping itinerary until the start of November.
Things to do in Paros
One of the great things about Paros is that it offers a whole mezze platter's worth of things to do. It's a jack of all trades, with both beaches and hills, historic sights and party towns. No wonder it caters to such a wide variety of different travellers.
Party in Naoussa
Naoussa is a jumble of blazing white cubist cottages that huddles around a rocky bay on the north coast of Paros. Aside from looking like something plucked off a postcard, it's also the liveliest party spot on the island. Get in by early evening so you can watch the light fade on the paint-peeling fishing skiffs in the harbour. Then, delve into the backstreets to find the Moraitis Winery for tastings of crisp local labels, or pumping Akanthus, a club that goes on all night long.
Explore and hike around Lefkes village
Lefkes village is a glimpse at the Aegean some 50 years ago. Yep, time seems to have stood still in this undeveloped highland hamlet, which perches on the eastern slopes of Paros's central mountains. Purring mopeds, hardworking olive farmers, stoop cottages plumed in bougainvillea – it's all here. So too are some fantastic tavernas, which serve proper Cycladic food in the form of marinated anchovies, herb-grilled feta, and hearty Parian sausage. Lefkes also happens to be the starting point of one of the best hikes on the island, which takes you down a 1,000-year-o
Water sports on Golden Beach
Paros reigns as the water sports mecca in this part of Greece. Everything from snorkelling to sea kayaking is on offer, but there's one that stands out from the crowd: Windsurfing. It comes into its own when the powerful Meltemi winds blast down from the north in the summer. Then, the whole bay of Golden Beach (Chryssi Akti) on the east coast turns into a playground of frothing waves and whitecaps. There's a windsurf centre one street back from the beach that offers rentals and beginner lessons.
See the church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani
Don't miss this exquisite piece of Byzantine-era building work in Parikia. A few streets back from the bustle of the port, it rises above the town with its stone-faced façade and red-tiled dome. The whole thing dates to around 326 AD and is thought to have been constructed on the site of a former pagan temple. Inside, it's replete with gold-leafed icons and vaulted ceilings decorated in elaborate murals and filigreed stonework.
Although Paros is hardly the hubbub of an island that is Santorini or Ios, there's still a chance to slow down the pace of your island-hopping trip even more here. Cue Antiparos. This diminutive isle lies just a stone's throw to the south-west and is accessible by regular ferry (they take 15-30 minutes). The reward is a sleepy land of quaint Cycladic villages and laid-back pebble beaches – Glyfa Beach and Soros are the best. Nature buffs will also want to drop into the Antiparos Caves, which showcase bulbous stalactites and stalagmites of all shapes and sizes.
The best beaches in Paros
No ultimate guide to Paros could be complete without checking out the beaches that hide in the coves and string along the coastline here. They run the gamut from blustery windsurf spots to hidden bays of gleaming sky-blue water…
Is that Greece? Or is it the Seychelles? Mhmm, Kolymbithres Beach is a true stunner. It's enfolded by a few smoothed-off boulders that form curious anthropomorphic shapes as they cascade into the Aegean. They sit next to a sort of swimming-pool lagoon with a shallow shelf that helps to keep the water warm and glistening a lovely turquoise. For us, this is the best beach on the island and a must for any snorkelers heading Paros's way.
Sometimes, Santa Maria Beach is churned up by the strong summer winds and windsurfers can be seen whizzing this way and that across the bay. Other times it's calm and still, with the waters lapping lightly against the powdery sand on the shoreline. It sits in a big opening on the east coast out of Naoussa, offering a C-curve of dune-backed strand with a few clusters of sunbeds for rent.
What's great about Livadia Beach is that you don't have to stray very far from the ferry port in Parikia to find it. It's a short stroll along the marina to the north of the town, where it horseshoes in a scythe of high coast pines and beige-coloured sand. It's well protected from the northerly swells and winds, and has loads of Greek tavernas offering local and international food just behind, a combo that makes it a good option for family travellers.
There's a vibrancy about Parasporos Beach thanks to the proximity of a backpacker's campground and the presence of a few boho beach bars on the sand. Come here in the middle of summer and you'll find a small enclave of hedonism, fuelled by cool beers at the Parasporos Beach Club and a diet of chillhop on the changer. It's also a lovely beach during the day, with soft sands and good protection from north swells.
Monastiri Beach is one side of an isthmus north of Naoussa. It's watched over by a triangular coastal mountain that's ribbed by lines of rock and carved with caves. The sand below is ringed by clusters of casuarinas and olive trees. There's a lovely sea-view café with Greek salads and pasta lunches on the menu just behind. Oh, and if you're feeling energetic, make for the Paros Park to the north, where you can hike a dramatic trail to a lighthouse on the extremity of the island.
How to get to Paros
Check out this guide to Paros ferries and flights to bag your ride into the windsurfing beaches and the quaint cubist town of Naoussa…
Paros does actually have its own airport (called the New Paros Airport). However, it's very small indeed. In fact, there's only one or two regular services, including a year-round link to Athens on Olympic Air and a seasonal hop to Heraklion in Crete with Sky Express. That means your best chance of traveling with a major EU budget carrier like Ryanair is to look to neighbouring islands that have larger commercial arrival points – Mykonos and Santorini are the two most obvious choices.
We've already mentioned that Paros is one of, if not the, main ferry hub in the Cyclades region. Boats come and go here from all over, linking to Athens, to Crete, to the Dodecanese islands further east, and to a whole host of popular destinations in the same chain. That all adds up to make this a doozy of a destination for island hoppers.
Some of the most popular ferry links to know about are:
Athens-Paros (€66/4-5 hours) – The main connection to Paros from the Greek capital goes from the port in Piraeus. However, you can also save time by catching the less-frequent links from Rafina.
Mykonos-Paros (45 minutes/€64-84) – It might be under an hour, but this connection is so popular in the high season that it costs up to €84 a pop. Book early to secure your seat.
Santorini-Paros (3.2-3.5 hours/€50-110) – Another extremely popular connection, this one's cheaper if you go for the slower boats.
We hope that this guide to Paros has tempted you to linger a little longer on an island that's often seen as just a transport hub. It's actually a place that's packed with history, charming Greek highland villages, and powdery beaches. Get in touch for more information on island-hopping trips that can take you there.